A big problem when playing a guitar duet is synchronizing both parts. In making these duo recordings, I expected that tempo changes would be the biggest challenge in overdubbing. But this turned out to be not as much a problem as I anticipated. It helped that I’m playing both parts, so it made things a bit easier than coordinating between two different players with different ideas on how to time a tempo change. Most surprising to me was how hard it was to synchronize both parts at a steady tempo. In my early recordings, I was appalled at how ragged my ensemble was. Sometimes, with the second guitar playing nothing more than a steady eighth note pulse, there would be long passages where not a single note really locked up with the other guitar part. What was the problem?
With a little thought, I came up the reason. Duet musicians are commonly exhorted to listen to each other—clearly a good idea. If I don’t think too deeply about it, I interpret this to mean that I must react to what my duo partner is playing. What I failed to realize, however, is that I must do more than merely react. Reaction implies that I hear something and then respond. But if I only react to my duo partner, I’ll always be a bit behind. Instead, I must anticipate. This is especially important in a guitar duo, because the sharp attack of a plucked string makes it obvious when two guitarists aren’t precisely together. This, by the way, is the reason that experienced ensemble players rely so heavily on visual cues. If, for example, I watch a guitarist’s right hand, it’s much easier to anticipate what he or she is about to do. (Provided, of course, the player isn’t trying to throw me off—I once had a young student who liked to make me jump the gun by giving false cues.)